Remedying disharmony

108 »Remedying disharmony

Aikido practice takes place according to an agreement. When your right foot is supposed to go forward, you move it forward; when your left foot is supposed to go back, you move it back – the broad movements are managed in this way. It is not as strict as traditional martial arts, but I think that aikido practice still belongs to the category of kata practice. In traditional martial arts, the movements are even more specified – that is, let alone the movements of the hands and feet, the movements of the fingers and the workings of the eyes (‘metsuke’) are stipulated. In aikido, there are few places that instruct so specifically or strictly. If it’s approximately correct, then it’s okay. However, as soon as a beginner makes a movement that is inaccurate or different, he/she is corrected immediately – this is absolutely to be expected, and the fundamental way to proceed, I believe.

However, after a certain time, those who have practiced enough that they can do the form without an inconsistencies (approximately from 2-dan) should start to be able to handle situations in which the partner does not move according to the agreement. This is my belief because, even though it is supposedly a method with health benefits, aikido still carries the label of ‘budo’. (I acknowledge that this is my own thinking and should not necessarily be imposed upon those who do not agree.)

Not just beginners, but among yudansha also there are people who do not move according to the correct, prescribed movements. We may overlook some kinds of exaggeration or inaccuracies if they are included in a demonstration intentionally, but it is a problem if such things are included in normal practice. If they are included, then it is likely what those people have been doing all along due to mistakenly memorizing something or not recognizing the importance of forms. It may be easy to criticize or caution such people, but it is also necessary to convey exactly why it is wrong.

Also, there are people who grossly misapprehend the meaning of forms practice, and consequently fall off balance even though their balance wasn’t taken, or see a point where should be off balance and forcefully stay standing, etc. If someone loses their balance all by themselves, reflecting an unconstructive habituation to the forms practice, they can remedy that tendency if they are cautioned. The problem is people who awkwardly hold their ground, and think that they are correct in doing so – when told, “That’s incorrect,” they often think that the person speaking is unskilled or lacking (yudansha are especially rigid in this tendency).

Regarding such people, though unfortunate, it is probably necessary to “reach down deeper” or be clever in order to deal with them. That is, if they don’t lose their balance as a result of the correct movement, then one needs to move in a way that is unexpected to the person. (At this point it already ceases to be forms practice, but rather actual application.)

Taking ikkyo as an example: In the case of right hanmi shomen-uchi omote, both partners first step forward with the right foot and their right handblades meet (and of course tori’s left hand goes to uke’s elbow). Next, tori steps forward with his left foot and cuts down with his handblade – accordingly, uke starts to turn away. At this point, uke’s feet are supposed to stay in the same position, but sometimes a person steps forward (away) with the right foot. In actuality, this movement is an indication of tori’s incomplete technique, or skill; it is a movement that leads to a reversal. When tori applies a balance break, and uke can move his feet freely, then the balance break failed.

In order to prevent uke from stepping with the right foot, instead of tori pushing uke’s arm forward, he should cut downward or step in between uke’s feet with his left foot. Thus tori can prevent uke from stepping forward – but what to do when uke has already stepped forward is the innovation I would like to discuss here, in relation to the topic of situations when there is deviation from the agreement.

This is very simple. [technical discussion]

Now, one sticking point is, this kind of technical innovation that is not “loyal” to the fundamentals – it is a point to consider, whether to practice such things as aikido practice. In the world of traditional martial arts, technical changes and innovations are restricted to the successors of individual arts. If any other person were to do so, it would only be when they leave the school and start their own lineage. A representative case of this is when Kano Jigoro founded Kodokan judo and its array of techniques from koryu jujutsu. The was an inevitable consequence of having matches.

It may be a stretch to apply that exactly to aikido, which does not have matches. I myself wonder if it is not forgivable to have some degree of innovation as a way of maintaining and explaining the rationale of the basic forms, and as a modern budo that is associated with the hope to embody martial-ness (or practicality).

My thought process followed a similar line: if my partner changes the situation, then I will use the opportunity to use it fittingly. (The author’s example was how to do so with ikkyo, which I skipped because it was tediously, at this point, familiar to me.) But with is “fittingly”? There is a lot of social dynamics going on in a dojo. In this situation where my uke changes the situation, there are various presumptions he and I could make.

Can I presume that he can fall safely if I change my technique according to what he presents me? that he will fall smoothly, safely, skillfully, joyfully, etc? that he was changing the situation knowingly? that he was changing the situation with full acceptance of the consequences?

Does he presume that I will struggle but continue doing only the one technique? that I will struggle and fail? that I will struggle and force the technique to succeed? that I will struggle and give up after some point? that I will change up but execute a technique that is smooth and comfortable for him? that I will change up and ultimately execute something that may be more dangerous, uncomfortable? demanding, etc.?

Although there are individual cultural differences among dojos, I think that generally we can say that most people are average. That is, they will only be willing to go so far as far as self-reflection, self-discipline, exploring limits, dealing with discomfort and adversity, etc. So, among the above presumptions, they will be adhering to or deviating from the pre-arranged forms to a certain degree, be able to a certain degree to respond to what they encounter/what transpires, and be willing only to a certain degree to respond to physically and accept emotionally to what they encounter/what transpires.

There is another sort of presumption that is at work, and varies between dojo cultures. Does a person recognize and acknowledge the type of student they are? Do I recognize that I am not a deshi but just someone coming for more or less a good time? Am I accepting of a certain amount or type of instruction because I am this type of student in the teacher’s eyes? Do I practice according to the situation eg if I am practicing with a 20 year-old “deshi”, 50 year-old “deshi”, 40 year-old fellow “average person”, etc. Do I expect the 20 year old “deshi” to practice with me in the same way as I do the 40 year-old hobbyist? Do I change how much, for instance, I “let my guard down” or keep my attentiveness sharp? Do I respond differently if that “deshi” or the “hobbyist” expresses pleasure or displeasure? What does that say about my stance and attitude?

In “agasan”‘s blog entry, I get the sense that he is presuming that the uke who is changing the situation is or should be accepting of the change up that tori makes, that that uke should or does listen to any cautions or instructions he is given about behaving in practice that way (ie changing the situation), and that somehow the two partners do not or should not get carried away in their mutual practice becoming more and more like a match.


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